Secrets of Successful Channel Partnerships

By: Jim Roddy, VP of Marketing at the RSPA

I despise wasting time, especially at a far-away-from-home conference. You trek from your car to the airport to another airport to an Uber to your hotel room to the conference site, putting forth a ton of effort (and money) to get there. After all that, the main stage speaker then offers little beyond platitudes and obvious business lessons. I still have burned into my brain the longwinded keynote I heard in New York City on the secret to being likeable. The speaker spent over an hour imploring the audience be friendly and have integrity. Who knew!

On the flip side of that is a conference session that engages your brain, exposes you to new perspectives, and provides you with information you can act on to improve yourself, your business, or both. That’s what I experienced in February 2019 at RSPA Inspire in Sanibel, FL. A workshop on “Successful Partnerships in Today’s Channel” generated action lists VARs and vendors could apply to create more productive partnerships with each other.

The RSPA compiled that data into a document that was distributed to all Inspire attendees. Below I will highlight a few of the takeaways that should benefit your business, and I’ll add some of my own commentary. If you want the original complete document, just shoot me an email and I’m happy to send it your way.

Conduct QBRs (Quarterly Business Reviews) to gain up-to-date feedback on features VARs and end users need most. Get their input about priorities for roadmaps. The best ideas aren’t generated by staring at your ceiling tiles. Innovations don’t suddenly pop into your brain; they enter through your ears and eyes. If a vendor doesn’t frequently engage with its VARs to discuss needs and strategy, its moves will be out of sync with partners and merchants. The best vendors are viewed by their VAR partners as an extension of their business, not just another provider.

Ensure VARs understand current training and support programs and offerings. Understand where the gaps exist. If a VAR can be trained to handle all Level 1 support, margins should increase. There’s a Bible verse that says something to the effect of, “Don’t light a candle and put it under a bushel basket. Put it on a candlestick so it can give light to everyone.” Many vendors have developed first-rate training materials and knowledgeable support teams, but they haven’t effectively connected their channel with those resources or their guidance doesn’t address where VARs need the most assistance. There’s no substitute for a vendor having personal, direct, in-depth communication with a partner.

Clearly define your target customer. Define “ideal” customer and focus your marketing efforts there. Imagine you’re scheduling a face-to-face meeting with a prospect. When you ask for the location of the meeting, they reply, “Canada.” That’s not very helpful; they could be in Medicine Hat, Alberta, or Halifax, Nova Scotia, or somewhere in between. The more clearly a VAR defines their target customer – think “quick service, multilocation restaurants in the greater Toronto area” instead of just “restaurants” – the better your vendor partners can help you generate leads. We explored this subject in Episode 2 the new RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast with channel marketing gurus Jeremy Julian of CBS NorthStar and James Korte of BlueStar offering advice for VARs on defining their ideal customer.  

Use co-marketing, training and lead generation programs. At an RSPA Inspire event nearly a decade ago, a panel discussion focused on “What VARs and Vendors Want From Each Other.” ScanSource’s Paul Constantine generated a drop-the-mic moment when he said, “We just want ya’ll to sell more.” Successful VARs lean on their vendor and distributor partners to collaborate on go-to-market activities, staff development, and more.

Train the team and leverage online education. Grow with your partner. Invest in hiring good people, reducing turnover an increasing organizational expertise. Attend Inspire and RetailNOW and join RSPA. I found this point very interesting – and not only because it mentions the RSPA. Channel-focused vendors know they’re only as good as their VAR partners, and a VAR is only as good as its people. Don’t keep your employees under a bushel basket (back to that Bible verse) and stunt their growth by limiting their knowledge. Vendors want to partner with resellers who are advancing their skillset, not stagnating.

If you missed this partnership workshop, don’t fret – there’s more on the way. At Inspire 2020, scheduled for Jan. 26-29 at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar Resort in Nassau, The Bahamas, there will be workshops designed to accelerate the success of VARs, ISVs, vendors, and distributors in the retail IT channel. Among the sessions on the Inspire agenda is a “Leadership in Action” workshop moderated by keynote speaker Jeff Havens and a workshop on VAR Sales Compensation featuring several resellers who will share their comp formulas and answer your questions.

Your trek for Inspire 2020 – from your car to the airport to another airport to a cab to your hotel room to the Grand Hyatt’s ballroom – will be time (and money) well spent. Visit the Inspire website today to learn more and to secure your spot. Don’t wait because seating for the conference and space in the RSPA hotel room block are limited – and Inspire 2019 drew a record number of attendees.

Jim Roddy is the Vice President of Marketing for the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer. For more information, contact